Letter from the Publisher: Books Still Matter
Categories: Literature & the Arts Society & Politics
Tags: Letter from the Publisher Perry Ulander
This spring one of our authors wrote to tell us about a success his book had recently achieved. Sometimes authors do this when they come across a good review or a high sales ranking. But that wasn’t the reason Perry Ulander was writing; he wanted to tell us about the impact his book Walking Point had on one person—his thirteen-year-old nephew Tommy.
Walking Point is a moving memoir about the one year Ulander spent as a teenager on the front lines of the Vietnam War. Unlike most war literature, the book is neither a patriotic ode nor an antiwar screed; it’s a book about healing in the face of fundamental pain—how the insanity of war was ultimately a crucible for Ulander’s own transformation.
And Walking Point is also the book that young Tommy Lessig chose when his class was asked to write letters to authors for a project sponsored by the Library of Congress. “Before I read your book, I always assumed that in war everyone loses their sanity and their hearts and just kills everyone,” Tommy wrote to his uncle Perry. “The United States has been at war since I was born, which is hard to comprehend. Honestly, I am afraid. I never want to get drafted. However, if I do, your book will give me a different perspective. Mostly, your book has made me believe that even in the worst possible situation that humans can create, there can be growth, gratitude, and love.”
Tommy’s letter reminds me that books are not merely content to be created; they are not “packages” hastily assembled to meet “consumer demand.” They are sacred objects infused with the lived experience of an author that can change people’s lives if the story is told right. I imagine we can all think of a book that fundamentally altered our perspective when we read it as a young person. For me, it was The Catcher in the Rye; that book made me feel that the alienation I experienced as a young person was not unique to me, and that my disdain for the “phonies” was in fact a badge of honor, not a liability. That book invited me into the world of being myself, not the self the world wanted me to be.
Walking Point was so important to Tommy that he revisited it later in the year when a teacher asked him to adapt a book he had read into graphic-novel form. With Tommy and Perry’s permission, we’re including a link to the short book that Tommy created. The book is beautifully done and, even more importantly, shows that Tommy metabolized Perry’s nuanced and unusual message; Tommy “got it” on a fundamental level, which is perhaps all that an author, or publisher, can hope for.
More than sales, publicity hits, dollars, or “likes,” it is experiences like these that motivate our work at North Atlantic Books and maintain our faith that the hard-earned wisdom of a book can change the world, one reader at time.